LAWRENCE STEIGRAD FINE ARTS

Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits

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HENDRICK BERCKMAN (Klundert 1629 – Middelburg 1679)

A Young Boy with a Dog

signed H. Berckman F. with the first two initials conjoined and dated 1667 on the base of the column

oil on mahogany panel

31 ¼ x 24 ¾ inches     (79.5 x 63 cm.)


PROVENANCE

Imperial Hohenzollern Collection

Baron André Sigmond von Lemheny, Switzerland

His sale, Important Paintings Collection of a Swiss Nobleman, American Art Association, Anderson Galleries Inc., New York, January 17, 1931, lot 77, illustrated (as A Princess of Orange)

Where purchased by Louis Levy

Tillou Gallery, Litchfield, Connecticut, 1967

Private Collection, Virginia, until 2010

 

LITERATURE

Apollo, volume 86, December 1967, p. xciii, in an advertisement for the Tillou Gallery, Litchfield, Connecticut, titled A Princess of Orange

 

Hendrick Berckman was a portrait painter who was a pupil of Jacob Jordaens and Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert in Antwerp and Philips Wouwerman in Haarlem.  Tellingly both Arnold Houbraken and Cornelis de Bie recorded his activities in their biographies of Netherlandish painters.  Houbraken wrote that Berckman showed promise as a painter of small-scale battle and cavalier scenes painted in the style of Wouwerman, but it was Jordaens who advised him to paint works on a larger scale.  This advice he followed as De Bie records large group portraits of militia-guilds Berckman painted in Vlissingen and Middelburg, unfortunately now almost all lost.  He was appointed court painter to Count Hendrick of Nassau, Governor of Hulst until his death in 1652.  He then went to work in Leiden and was admitted into the Guild of St. Luke on February 24, 1654.  By 1655 he was working in Middelburg and had joined their Guild.  By the time of his death in 1679 he was the dean of the Middelburg Guild.  According to Alfred von Wurzbach he also married while living in Middelburg. [1]

Early prestige afforded by the appointment as court painter to Count Hendrick of Nassau continued with success among the elite, evident from a number of identified portraits in public collections.  Vice-Admiral Michel Adriaenszoon de Ruyter, the most celebrated Dutch seamen as well as their ablest Commander in the Seventeenth century, along with his wife Anna van Gelder, were painted several times by the artist.  Berckman’s portraits of Ruyter are in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich and the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.  A pair of portraits of the couple, dated 1660, is in the Stedelijk Museum, Vlissingen.  Other luminaries include the Vlissingen minister Thomas Pots, dated 1661, and two portraits of Adriaen Banckert, Vice Admiral of Zeeland also in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.  Admiral Joost van Trappen is recorded in the collection of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, and the theologian Anthonius Hulsius is in the Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal, Leiden. Unidentified portraits of a well-to-do young man and woman from 1656 are in Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp, and a corporate group portrait from 1660 is in the Zeeuws Museum, Middelburg. Many of his portraits were widely known through engravings. [2]

Our portrait was executed during the artist’s time in Middelburg, a period marked by important commissions.  Although the child’s identity is unknown the painting provides abundant intentional references to the status and privilege of his family.  It is therefore not surprising that when sold at auction in 1931, besides being given the wrong sex, the painting was titled A Princess of Orange. [3]  A number of children’s portraits are known by Berckman but are somber in comparison to the splendor of this panel.  The choice of mahogany for the panel is also unusual and rare.  Besides Rembrandt only Gerrit Dou and Aelbert Cuyp were known to have used it in their work at this time.  It is only towards the end of the seventeenth and during the eighteenth century that it became more common. [4]

A boy approximately two-years-old with a dog stand on an oriental rug backed by a grey wall in a porch.  A huge column divides the interior and exterior space which opens onto an ornamental garden.  The setting has the feel of a palace and is probably intended as an allusion to the wealth of the family. [5]  During the second and third quarters of the century there was a rise in the purchasing of country estates by wealthy townsmen in Holland and with the acquisition of an estate came an elevation in social status to something akin to semi-nobility. [6]  The carpet further serves to emphasize the grandeur of the setting.  Oriental carpets were costly and rare and at this point not commonly used as floor coverings, but instead draped over tables and other pieces of furniture such as trunks and chests in order to minimize wear.  It would not be until the eighteenth century in the Netherlands that they would be used to cover floors. [7]

Our young sitter wears a white lace undercap beneath a black outer cap trimmed with gold, orange and grey looped ribbons that also adorn his collar, sleeves, wrists and waist.  A double, rectangular collar is made of linen and lace.  A white linen apron trimmed with lace extends from his chest to the floor.  His wide, loose cuffs are similarly trimmed with the same lace as the apron.  Lace at this time was often more expensive than woven fabrics or jewelry and was regarded as an important fashion statement as well as an indicator of prosperity. [8]  The dress is a combination of a doublet and skirt made from a dark grey fabric shot with silver.  A leading string (bands attached to the upper garments of young children so an adult could support the child when learning to walk) is visible over his right shoulder. [9]   Both boys and girls at this age wore skirts and aprons and there does not seem to be a set rule as to when it was deemed appropriate to transfer young boys into breeches. [10]  Across his chest is a double strand of heavy gold links to which a rinkelbel is attached that is displayed in his right hand.  Rinkelbels were the most common accessory found in Dutch children’s portraits of the sixteenth and seventeenth century.  This one has a gold handle with bells at its base with a rock crystal top meant for teething.  The ringing of the bells was intended to ward off evil spirits.  Both a toy and a treasure they were often given as gifts and became family heirlooms. [11]  His outfit is not the way a young boy would have normally dressed, but instead intended as a statement for posterity.

A playful black and white dog, that appears to be leaping out of the panel, wears bells and looped yellow and orange ribbons in its collar.  The parallel to the young boy’s outfit is intentional.  The dog is a metaphor often found in children’s portraits of the period for the need to reign in natural tendencies.  This could be accomplished for both child and dog only through instruction and education. [12]

Due to the fact that so many of the artist’s portraits are presently lost or familiar only through engravings contemporary assessment of the artist’s talents has been skewered.  Walther Bernt described his portraits as “well drawn, strongly colored and somewhat dry in concept” and this can be true of many of the portraits of officials.  Our portrait testifies to a different truth, and the remarkable talent Hendrick Berckman possessed.  It can only be regarded as his rediscovered masterpiece.

We are very grateful to Sabine E. Craft-Giepmans of the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague for her assistance in the writing of this entry.

 

 

 

[1] Biographical information taken from Cornelis de Bie, Het gulden cabinet van de edel vry schilderconst, part II, Jan Meyssens, 1661, p. 414; Arnold Houbraken, De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen (1718-1721), volume I, Wilhelm Braumüller, Wien, 1888, p. 70; Alfred von Wurzbach, Niederländisches Künstler-Lexikon, volume I, Halm und Goldman, Wien, 1906-1911, p. 86; Thieme-Becker, “Hendrick Berckman” in Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, volume III, Veb. E.A. Seemann Verlag, Leipzig, 1909, p. 377; and Walther Bernt, “Hendrick Berckman” in The Netherlandish Painters of the Seventeenth Century, volume I, Phaidon, London, p. 10.

[2] Walther Bernt, op. cit., p. 10.

[3] In a written communication with Sabine Craft-Giepmans, dated September 28, 2010, “I doubt the boy is related to the house of Orange as in 1667 there was no ‘Stadholder’ in Holland (only in Friesland and Groningen).  In the so called ‘stadhouderloze tijdperk’ 1650-1672 (period without stadholders) Holland was a true republic”.

[4] Peter Klein, “The Use of Wood in Rembrandt’s Workshop, Wood Identification and Dendrochonological Analysis” in The Learned Eye, Regarding Art, Theory, and the Artist’s Reputation, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 2005, p. 31.

[5] Rudi Ekkart, “Jan van Noordt” in Pride and Joy, Children’s Portraits in the Netherlands 1500-1700, exhibition catalogue Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem, October 7 – December 31, 2000, p. 266.

[6] Alison McNeil Kettering, The Dutch Arcadia Pastoral Art and its Audience in the Golden Age, Allanheld & Schram, Totowa, New Jersey, 1983, pp. 10-11, 18.

[7] Onno Ydema, Carpets and their Datings in Netherlandish Paintings 1540-1700, Antique Collectors’ Club Ltd., Suffolk, 1991, p. 7.

[8] Santina M. Levey and Patricia Wardle, The Finishing Touch, Frederiksborg Museum, Denmark, 1994, p. 4.

[9] Saskia Kuus, “Leading Strings and Protective Caps, Children’s Costume in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries”, in Pride and Joy, op. cit., p. 77.

[10] Saskia Kuus, “Skirts for Girls and Boys”, op. cit., pp. 79-82.

[11] William H. Wilson, “Adriaen van der Linde” in Dutch Seventeenth Century Portraiture, The Golden Age, exhibition catalogue, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida, December 4, 1980 – February 8, 1981, unpaginated and Annemarieke Willemsen, “Out of Children’s Hands” in Pride and Joy, op. cit., p. 298.

[12] Jan Baptist Bedaux, The Reality of Symbols, Gary Schwartz, SDU Publications, The Hague, 1990, pp. 113, 119.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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